I’ve been having conversations with my daughter about resilience and the human mind. Yesterday I touched on the concept of creating monsters in our mind – be they mewling weaklings like Monday, that we can crush beneath our heel, or towering constructions that loom over us threatening the loss of everything. Both share one similarity: they are a construct of our own mind. They have power inasmuch as we grant it to them.
I’ve been in the shadow of fear, and I know very well that it cannot be banished easily. And it’s not something you can do by yourself. Once you are in the penumbra you lose a lot of your power. Regaining control isn’t easy, even once you’re walking in the light again, there are still will’o the wisps that follow you, lurking in the shadows, only visible at the twilight times and as flickers in the edge of your vision, stalking…
We say it lightly, ‘walking through the valley of the shadow of death’ but it’s not a light task. Every moment, every footstep is painful and hard won. Having passed through it, you are never the same again, and it haunts you. I find now that I don’t trust myself, fully. For good reason. I’m surrounded by love and support but still I peer suspiciously, waiting for the axe to fall again. It’s work to batter back the paranoia and accept the help of those who want to help me. Because that’s how I got out. I had help.
Fighting the monsters of your own mind means constant vigilance, and it needs objectivity that you cannot at first do alone. I got lucky. I found a therapist who didn’t tell me things, she showed me through my own words what was happening in my head, and through that clarity I found a solid path for the first time in years. Later, I found that friends were willing to give me a hand, to reassure me that I had value and worth to offer the world. That I wasn’t stupid. That I could go back to school and get straight As. That I could reach my goals, given time and taking it all a day at a time. My path wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’m standing here on solid ground to say: ‘you can do this.’
Use the tools you can find to help you. Mine included the above-mentioned therapist, medicine, and friends. Later, as I got stronger, I did much of it myself. I read books. I found passages that let me know this was all right, it was ok, it was if not normal then not freakish. Being me, I read a lot of studies and papers on the mind and how it can play tricks on us. I took comfort in knowing that some of the monsters in my mind were, indeed, physical in origin. Stress changes the brain. Trauma leaves tracks on the map of our neurons. In particular, prolonged stress-exposure as an adolescent while the plastic brain is still undergoing development can have deleterious effects. (http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2003000) However, treatment of these physical changes doesn’t have to be lifelong. For some, it must. Not for all – I was able to walk away from the medical after a time, and haven’t looked back.
However, there will always be scars. I find that there are some I didn’t consciously know were there. I warned my partner that such existed, but even so we both find ourselves surprised from time to time, and have to navigate through that when they appear. I bear my scars knowing that I earned them. I fought, and I won. The monsters of my mind have been banished, and when they come creeping back I know what to do. Sometimes that is as simple as music, or taking a walk. Sometimes it’s calling a friend (or chatting, when I can’t keep the tears back). I have no shame in falling down and getting back up. I clawed my way out of an abyss, this is nothing comparatively. A stumble over a molehill. I might not walk without a limp, but I stand tall and proud on the carcasses of my monsters.
The human mind can endure terrible things. The human mind can triumph over events and reach past the pain to embrace joy. The first step leads to another, and another… there’s no standing still. Always forward, and in time you’ll be out of reach of the monsters, and then you’ll have the light to cast them out of your mind for all time. Take a step.